Less funny than the average cat gif and approximately 1,000 times as long, the astonishingly stupid “Nine Lives” is too fluffy and frivolous to be the worst movie of the summer, but it might just be the laziest. Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld (“Men in Black”) and written by one of the finest algorithms money can buy, this derivative story about the very secret lives of pets is quite possibly the worst thing to happen to cats since dogs. “Cat’s don’t care about you,” begins the film’s opening voiceover. Judging by the 89 minutes that follow, people don’t care about you all that much either.
Kevin Spacey (“K-Pax”), who is apparently being severely underpaid for his work in “House of Cards,” stars as Tom Brand, a New York real estate titan who likes to put his name on buildings, hire his children in key positions, and treat people so monstrously that his behavior would seem unrealistic if not for the fact that the character’s real-life equivalent is currently running for President. A workaholic who seldom sees his second wife (Jennifer Garner) or the tween daughter they have together (Melina Weissman), Tom Brand is a Disney Dad for the Donald Trump era, but “Nine Lives” — for better or worse — isn’t a Disney movie.
READ MORE: Kevin Spacey Is A Talking Cat In New Trailer For ‘Nine Lives’No, this hairball of hot garbage comes from the braintrust at Luc Besson’s EuropaCorp, the French production company responsible for the lunatic likes of “Taken,” “The Transporter,” “Taken 2,” “Lucy,” and “Taken 3.” EuropaCorp’s mission statement has seemingly always been to make movies that feel like they were dropped on their heads as children, and “Nine Lives” is no exception. Young kids may not notice the difference, but you certainly will.
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For one thing, Tom is introduced as he skydives to work one morning (extreme!!). For another, the entire Manhattan skyline seems to have been created on an iPad (but not, like, one of those fancy iPad Pros, or anything). Of course, that could be chalked up to cheapness, but the EuropaCorp difference is that they highlight the chintzy CG at every available opportunity, the camera swooping between digital skyscrapers with such relish that the whole film seems like a passive-aggressive middle finger to all the things that make it took expensive to actually shoot in New York City.
But if the character details and copious digitalia don’t make it sufficiently clear that “Nine Lives” hasn’t been churned through the Disney machine, the violent process by which Tom is transformed into a cat should settle any doubts. See, it’s his daughter’s birthday, and she wants a cat. But Tom hates cats! Fortunately for the little girl, the one thing her dad hates more than cats is wasting time thinking of creative ways to make his daughter happy, so he begrudgingly drives to to an enchanted pet store and buys a growly adult feline named “Mr. Fuzzypants” from the kooky proprietor (Christopher Walken, effectively reprising his role from “Click”).
And then abracadabra!, our slimeball protagonist is turned into a cat, right? Wrong. In order for the transmutation to occur, Tom has to stand on the roof of the new tower he’s constructing (oh, there’s an incredibly asinine plot thread about a power struggle at his company, and his obsessive quest to build the tallest building in the western hemisphere), be hit by a bolt of lightning, plummet off the side of the skyscraper, snag his leg on some stray equipment, get flung back inside, and then spirited away from his comatose body.
That’s when things get weird: Not because Tom is now stuck inside of a cat (Spacey’s limp inner monologue narrating his character’s every thought), but because nobody seems to care that Tom is laid up in the hospital on life support. And not in a “he’s an absent husband and father and nobody loves him” sort of way, but in a “every character in this movie is profoundly sociopathic” sort of way. Tom’s wife and daughter are a little teary-eyed about things at first, but they go back to their ritzy apartment later that night — with their rambunctious new cat! — and everything is completely hunky-dory.
READ MORE: Kevin Spacey and Michael Shannon on the ‘Bromance’ Between ‘Elvis and Nixon’There’s no right way to grieve, but “Nine Lives” skips right over reasonable human behavior and straight into “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” territory. When Garner’s character sees Mr. Fuzzypants run amok, she asks her cookie-cutter stepson if they make MRIs for cats. His response? “You mean CAT scans?” LOOOOOOL. Cue a huge smile that’s held for a truly disquieting period of time. These are lizard people. Run for your lives.
Only Tom seems to appreciate the seriousness of the situation, and so — as Mr. Fuzzypants — he immediately starts attacking the liquor cabinet. This kind of business is what comprises most of the movie, as Mr. Fuzzypants terrorizes Tom’s apartment in his increasingly desperate attempts to communicate with his daughter and convey that he’s trapped inside the body of her new pet. It’s truly witless stuff, absent any visual cleverness or comic grace (there are not one, not two, but at least three gags involving Mr. Fuzzypants peeing into someone’s purse), and Spacey’s neutered voiceover makes him sound even more zombified here than he was in “American Beauty.”
Sonnenfeld fatally fails to recognize that cats are so popular in part because they’re natural comedians — while Spacey’s brand might be a perfect fit for the animals’ inherent drollness, the actor sounds understandably bored by his own dialogue, and the elaborate computer-generated stunts that Mr. Fuzzypants is forced to endure aren’t a fraction as funny as the things a feline might do when left to their own devices. The film’s central conceit seems to be that cats are like people, but people like cats in part because their actions are so unpredictable. The movie might be a bit weirder than the average “guy gets turned into an animal” joint, but it isn’t nearly weird enough.
Cats may have nine lives, but you only get one, and it’s too precious to waste on this drivel. You’re better off watching a gif of a cat whose face is stuck in a slice of bread. It will save you $20 and a few hours of your time.
“Nine Lives” is now playing in theaters.